A gritty display helped Wigan Athletic gain a valuable point away from home in their first Europa League match.
Owen Coyle made seven changes to the lineup that faced Leicester last weekend. Latics started the game without a recognized centre forward and with a couple of centre backs – James Perch and Ryan Shotton – who had never played together before.
Stephen Crainey returned at left back. In midfield James McArthur played in the holding role in front of the back four, with Jordi Gomez to the right and Chris McCann to the left. Nick Powell was thrust into the unfamiliar role of centre forward, with Callum McManaman and James McClean on the wings.
Latics had made a bright start, with a rasping drive from James McArthur hitting the post in the 3rd minute. For the first 20 minutes they had their fair share of the ball, but from then on the home side asserted themselves in midfield. The Wigan defence had to work hard as Zulte Waregem pressed in the remainder of the first half.
Latics had a scare on 35 minutes when McClean headed on to his own crossbar. Soon after McCann was dispossessed outside the penalty box and Carson had to make a fine save from Conte.
The home team dominated the second half with over 70% of the possession. However, Wigan kept their shape, with the midfield dropping back to make a solid line in front of the penalty area.
Latics finally announced their attacking intentions by bringing on Marc-Antoine Fortune after 66 minutes, together with Ben Watson. Gomez and McManaman went off. Fortune was to have few opportunities as the home side continued in the ascendancy.
There were several close calls around the Wigan goal before James Perch had a snap shot well saved by goalkeeper Sammy Bossut. Zulte Waregem continued to press throwing everything they could at the Latics defence, which somehow kept them out.
Nouha Dicko replaced Nick Powell after 82 minutes, only to have a penalty claim against him not long after. The Polish referee, who had been excellent all night, ignored the home team claims.
In the 86th minute McCann threw his body in the way of a shot that had ‘goal’ written all over it – a remarkable block. Somehow Latics survived the 90 minutes plus 3 minutes of time added on.
Zulte Waregem were disappointed with the result, but Coyle was clearly delighted. His patched-up team had played with real endeavour and worked so hard to get this historic result.
Following the shambles of the Leicester match Coyle changed his tactical system, playing with two wingers. This time around every player knew his role and was 100% involved in the game.
The new look centre of defence held up well, no doubt helped by a midfield that dropped back to shield them as needed. The two starting wingers worked hard and covered a lot of ground. Only once was one of them able to get behind the opposition defence – Callum McManaman putting in a dangerous cross in the first half – but both did more than their fair share of defensive duties.
It is rumoured that Coyle is close to getting a third central striker on loan. It was not an easy debut for Nick Powell, having to play in the centre, then later being pushed wide on the right. His natural position is the same as that of Shaun Maloney, in the hole between the midfield and the central striker. We may well see them alternate in that position as the season progresses.
Rubin Kazan announced themselves with a 5-2 win at Maribor. Two of the five goals were scored in time added on, but the Russian team remains favourite to win the group.
Scott Carson: 7 – once again an important player. Very solid defensively and his distribution was much better than in previous games.
Emmerson Boyce: 6 – solid.
James Perch: 6 – restored to the centre back position and staked his claim.
Ryan Shotton: 6 – a solid debut.
Stephen Crainey: 6 – his distribution was much better. Still adjusting to the change from being at Blackpool.
James McArthur: 7 – fitted in well to the ‘McCarthy role’. Full of endeavour and unlucky with a superb shot early on.
Jordi Gomez: 6 – a few passes went astray but showed a lot of commitment and covered a lot of ground.
Chris McCann: 6 – gradually adjusting to Latics’ style of play. Some nice touches and solid in defence in the second half especially.
Callum McManaman: 6 – worked hard and played for the team. His more spectacular moments will come.
Nick Powell: 5 – played out of position and clearly not match fit. His best is yet to come.
James McClean: 6 – industrious and involved. With time his final pass should improve.
Ben Watson: – pegged back into his own half most of the time. Worked hard.
Marc-Antoine Fortune:- isolated as Latics were pegged back in defence.
Nouha Dicko: – given a chance at last, albeit brief.